Team at Children’s Hospital Westmead help dying children cope

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Talking death and dying to children, their siblings or even parents is an incredibly difficult burden. However for the staff at Children’s Hospital Westmead, delivering heart-breaking news is their nine to five. “You never get used to it. You never get used to the sadness and the distress that you see on people’s faces. It’s incredibly difficult. It’s indescribable,” said Jude Frost, clinical nurse consultant.

Frost has spent the past 15 years caring for children with life-limiting and incurable conditions. She makes up part of a 14 member team at the palliative care unit where ‘positive outcomes are rare – maybe one every 3 years’ says the staff. Members of this team spend their days staring death in the face and smiling, telling the most vulnerable of children that mum and dad will be ok without them.

“It’s never going to be ok but I hope I can make it a bit easier,” said Natasha Samy, bereavement co-ordinator. Samy works closely with the families of dying children by helping them manage the before and after death. This often involves reading stories such as ‘The Memory Garden’ series, which Samy authored. This book tells the story of three different perspectives, that of Iris who has a life-limiting illness, and Hazel and Leo, Iris’ brother and sister. “The story is really about how all three children learn that Iris is going to die and the fact that she does die. They try to normalize what children might be feeling when they’re going through that,” said Samy.

It is very difficult for the staff when a child dies, especially if they have formed a special bond with the child. Samy said, “Sometimes it does affect you and it affects you for days afterwards. But I think that’s normal because it just shows that you’re a human and you’re working with human emotions in this work. There is an impact and we have to acknowledge it but I can see a value in our work, that’s what keeps us going.” Samy believes that attending a child’s funeral is a privilege, and a ‘mark of respect’ for the children who were once in her care, although it is an emotional experience for the staff, it’s something they feel is necessary. Sammy said, “Death is going to happen whether we’re there or not but we can sometimes help to make what’s going to be really horrible, a little bit less horrible.” To read this full article, click here. 

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